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Singapore: Sri Mariamman temple

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Sri Mariamman temple | Singapore | Asia

[Visited: November 2000, May 2012]

It had been a very long time since I visited Sri Mariamman temple. Its appearance is so remarkable, I immediately recognized it when I turned the corner at Pagoda Street. This is not difficult: sculptures of cows are sitting on its wall, and the gopuram, or tower, right over the entrance of the temple is a dazzling collection of figures and animals on all four sides. Coming from Chinatown, where lots of people filled the street, and South Bridge Road with its traffic, it seemed a good idea to get rid of our shoes and go inside. Coincidentally, a ceremony was being performed, many Hindus were congregated in the prayer hall, while rhythmic music was being played live. I kept a distance from the worshippers, not wanting to interfere with their devotion, and sat outside the open prayer hall with its brightly coloured ceiling - it was very interesting to observe the people inside, listen to the music, and allow myself to be temporarily transported to a world I knew very little about.

Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Fragment of one of the many scenes of  Sri Mariamman temple

An old lady, wearing a green shirt and covered by a bright red dress, was sitting against a column, and I wondered what she was thinking. She seemed a little isolated from the other worshippers, and her thoughts seemed to be focused on something completely different. A young woman was praying, her contours contrasted beautifully against the white wall behind her, on which the harsh sunlight was burning. After a while, I decided to move on, having a look at the other places of worship in this temple. Here, I saw people alone, muttering their prayer, statues of deities with flowers, shrines with different deities prominently sculpted on top. The most easily recognized one was elephant-like Ganesh. After a while, the worshippers formed a procession, and walked around the Sri Mariamman temple complex, accompanied by the musicians I had seen before.

Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Skyline of Singapore reflected in golden spire of the flagpole of Sri Mariamman temple

We stood in a corner of the complex, and let the procession pass. The scene was complete now: a group of devoted Hindus, men and women, some playing music, others carrying flowers, most with white and red paint on their forehead, passing right in front of us, with the richly adorned shrines and temple just behind - an abundance of red, blue, white, yellow, pink, purple, green... While Singapore has modernized rapidly in the last decades, Sri Mariamman temple has remained what it was since the 1820s when the temple was first built: the main religious centre for South Indian Tamil Hindus in Singapore. When we were outside again, we walked around the walls, admiring the plasterwork all around, depicting human figures and animals, sticking out from behind the wall - with the skyscrapers of Singapore just behind, looming high over this little Hindu treasure.

Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): View of  Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Praying woman contrasting with white wall at  Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Sculpture of Ganesh in  Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Scenes depicted on the colourful ceiling of Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Two women in a small procession around Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Man with cow on the wall of Sri Mariamman temple with a modern building in the background
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Small procession in Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Worshipper in Sri Mariamman temple with white and red coloured forehead
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Fragment of the tower, gopuram, standing over the entrance of Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Sculptures of white cows on the wall around Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Close-up of the abundance of decorations on and around Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Two small elephants side by side with a deity in Sri Mariamman temple
Picture of Sri Mariamman temple (Singapore): Hindu woman performing religious rituals at Sri Mariamman temple

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